Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 44: Hebrews, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
1. Hic enim erat Melchisedec rex Salem, pontifex Dei altissimi, qui occurrit Abrahae revertenti a caede regum, et benedixit illi;
2. To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
2. Cui et decimas ex omnibus impartitus est Abraham; qui primum quidem ex interpretatione dicitur Rex justitiae, deinde etiam Rex Salem, quod est Rex pacis;
3. Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
3. Sine patre, sine matre, sine genere, nec initium dierum, nec vitae finem habens; sed assimilatus Filio Dei manet sacerdos in perpetuum.
1. For this Melchisedec, etc. He has hitherto been stimulating the Jews by exhortations, that they might attentively consider the comparison between Christ and Melchisedec. At the end of the last chapter, that he might return from his digression to his subject, he quoted again the passage from the Psalms; and now he enters fully into what he had before slightly referred to; for he enumerates particularly the things connected with Melchisedec, in which he resembled Christ. It is indeed no wonder that he dwells so minutely on this subject. It was doubtless no common thing that in a country abounding in the corruptions of so many superstitions, a man was found who preserved the pure worship of God; for on one side he was nigh to Sodom and Gomorrah, and on the other to the Canaanites, so that he was on every side encompassed by ungodly men. Besides, the whole world was so fallen into impiety, that it is very probable that God was nowhere faithfully worshipped except in the family of Abraham; for his father and his grandfather, who ought to have retained true religion, had long before degenerated into idolatry. It was therefore a memorable fact, that there was still a king who not only retained true religion, but also performed himself the office of a priest. And it was doubtless necessary that in him who was to be a type of the Son of God all things excellent should be found: and that Christ was shadowed forth by this type is evident from the Psalm referred to; for David did not say without reason, “Thou art a priest forever after the order Melchisedec;” no, but on the contrary, by these words a sublime mystery was recommended to the Church.
Let us now consider each of those particulars in which the Apostle makes Christ like Melchisedec. 110
The first likeness is in the name; for it was not without a mystery that he was called the King of righteousness. For though this honor is ascribed to kings who rule with moderation and in equity, yet this belongs really to Christ alone, who not only exercises authority justly as others do, but also communicates to us the righteous of God, partly when he makes us to be counted righteous by a gratuitous reconciliation, and partly when he renews us by his Spirit, that we may lead a godly and holy life. He is then called the King of righteousness, because of what he effects in diffusing righteousness on all his people. 111 It hence follows, that out of his kingdom nothing but sin reigns among men. And therefore Zechariah, when he introduces him, as by the solemn decree of God, into the possession of his kingdom, thus extols him, —
“Rejoice, O daughter of Sion, Behold thy righteous King
cometh to thee,” (Zec 2:10;)
intimating that the righteousness, which is otherwise wanting to us, is brought to us by the coming of Christ.
The second likeness which the Apostle states is as to the kingdom of peace. This peace indeed is the fruit of that righteousness which he has mentioned. It hence follows that wherever Christ’s kingdom extends, there peace ought to be, as we find in Isa. 2:1, Isa. 9:1, and in other places. But as peace among the Hebrews means also a prosperous and happy state, it may be so taken here: yet I prefer to understand it here of that inward peace which tranquilizes the conscience and renders it confident before God. And the excellency of this blessing cannot be sufficiently estimated, unless you consider on the other hand, how miserable a thing it is to be tormented by constant inquietude; which must necessarily be the case until we have our consciences pacified by being reconciled to God through Christ.
3. Without father, etc. I prefer this rendering to that of “unknown father;” for the Apostle meant to express something more emphatic than that the family of Melchisedec was obscure or unknown. Nor does this objection disturb me, that the reality does not correspond with the figure or type, because Christ has a Father in heaven, and had a mother on earth; for the Apostle immediately explains his meaning by adding without descent, or kindred. He then exempts Melchisedec from what is common to others, a descent by birth; by which he means that he is eternal, so that his beginning from men was not to be sought after. It is indeed certain that he descended from parents; but the Apostle does not speak of him here in his private capacity; on the contrary, he sets him forth as a type of Christ. He therefore allows himself to see nothing in him but what Scripture contains. For in treating of things respecting Christ, such reverence ought to be observed as not to know anything but what is written in the Word of the Lord. Now, as the Holy Spirit in mentioning this king, the most illustrious of his age, is wholly silent as to his birth, and makes afterwards no record of his death, is not this the same thing as though eternity was to be ascribed to him? And what was shadowed forth in Melchisedec is really exhibited in Christ. It behooves us then to be satisfied with this moderate view, that while Scripture sets forth to us Melchisedec as one who had never been born and never died, it shows to us as in a mirror, that Christ has neither a beginning nor an end. 112
But we hence also learn how much reverence and sobriety is required as to the spiritual mysteries of God: for what is not found read in Scripture the Apostle is not only willing to be ignorant of, but also would have us to seek to know. And surely it is not lawful for us to allege anything of Christ from our own thoughts. And Melchisedec is not to be considered here, as they say, in his private capacity, but as a sacred type of Christ; nor ought we to think that it was accidentally or inadvertently omitted that no kindred is ascribed to him, and that nothing is said of his death; but on the contrary, that this was done designedly by the Spirit, in order to give us an idea of one above the common order of men. There seems therefore to be no probability in the conjecture of those who say that Melchisedec was Shem the son of Noah; for if we make him to be some known individual, we destroy this third likeness between Melchisedec and Christ.
Made like, or assimilated, etc. Not as far as what was typified required; for we must always bear in mind that there is but an analogy between the thing signified and the sign; for they make themselves ridiculous who imagine that he came down from heaven, in order that there might be a perfect similarity. It is enough that we see in him the lineaments of Christ, as the form of the living man may be seen in his picture, while yet the man himself is very different from what represents him. 113 It seems not to be worth one’s while to refute the delirious notions of those who dream that Christ himself, or the holy Spirit, or an angel, appeared at that time; unless indeed one thought it to be the duty of a rightminded man to dispute with Postillus and such fanatics; for that impostor asserts that he is Melchisedec with no less supercilious folly than those mad spirits of old, mentioned by Jerome, who pretended that they were Christ.
Hebrews Chapter 7:4-10
4. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
4. Considerate autem quantus sit hic, cui et decimas dedit de spoliis Abraham patriarcha.
5. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
5. Atque ii quidem qui sacerdotium accipiunt, qui scilicet sunt ex filiis Levi, praeceptum habent a populo decimas sumendi juxta legem, hoc est, a fratribus suis licet egressis ex lumbis Abrahae:
6. But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
6. Cujus autem genus non recensetur ex ipsis, decimas sumpsit ab Abraham, et habentem promissiones benedixit.
7. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
7. Porro sine controversia quod minus est a potiore benedicitur.
8. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
8. Atque hic quidem homines qui moriuntur, decimas accipiunt; illic autem is de quo testatum est quod vivat:
9. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
9. Et ut ita loquar, in Abraham decimatus est ipse Levi qui decimas solet accipere;
10. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
10. Nam is adhuc in lumbis patris erat quum occurrerit Abrahae Melchisedec.
4. Now consider, etc. This is the fourth comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, that Abraham presented tithes to him. But though tithes were instituted for several reasons, yet the Apostle here refers only to what serves his present purpose. One reason why tithes were paid to the Levites was, because they were the children of Abraham, to whose seed the land was promised. It was, then, by a hereditary right that a portion of the land was allotted to them; for as they were not allowed to possess land, a compensation was made to them in tithes. There was also another reason, — that as they were occupied in the service of God and the public ministry of the Church, it was right that they should be supported at the public cost of the people. Then the rest of the Israelites owed them tithes as a remuneration for their work. But these reasons bear not at all on the present subject; therefore, the Apostle passes them by. The only reason now alleged is, that as the people offered the tithes as a sacred tribute to God, the Levites only received them. It hence appears that it was no small honor that God in a manner substituted them for himself. Then Abraham, being one of the chief sergeants of God and a prophet, having offered tithes to Melchisedec the priest, thereby confessed that Melchisedec excelled him in dignity. If, then, the patriarch Abraham owned him more honourable than himself, his dignity must have been singular and extraordinary. The word patriarch is mentioned for the sake of setting forth his dignity; for it was in the highest degree honourable to him to have been called a father in the Church of God.
Then the argument is this, — Abraham, who excelled all others, was yet inferior to Melchisedec; then Melchisedec had the highest place of honor, and is to be regarded as superior to all the sons of Levi. The first part is proved, for what Abraham owed to God he gave to Melchisedec: then by paying him the tenth he confessed himself to be inferior.
5. And verily they, etc. It would be more suitable to render the words thus, “because they are the sons of Levi.” The Apostle indeed does not assign it as a reason that they received tithes because they were the sons of Levi; but he is comparing the whole tribe with Melchisedec in this way. Though God granted to the Levites the right of requiring tithes from the people, and thus set them above all the Israelites, yet they have all descended from the same parent; and Abraham, the father of them all, paid tithes to a priest of another race: then all the descendants of Abraham are inferior to this priest. Thus the right conferred on the Levites was particular as to the rest of their brethren; yet Melchisedec, without exception, occupies the highest place, so that all are inferior to him. Some think that the tenths of tenths are intended, which the Levites paid to the higher priests; but there is no reason thus to confine the general declaration. The view, then, I have given is the most probable.
6. Blessed him, etc. This is the fifth comparison between Christ and Melchisedec. The Apostle assumes it as an admitted principle that the less is blessed by the greater; and then he adds that Melchisedec blessed Abraham: hence the conclusion is that the less was Abraham. But for the sake of strengthening his argument he again raises the dignity of Abraham; for the more glorious Abraham is made, the higher the dignity of Melchisedec appears. For this purpose he says that Abraham had the promises; by which he means that he was the first of the holy race with whom God made the covenant of eternal life. It was not indeed a common honor that God chose him from all the rest that he might deposit with him the privilege of adoption and the testimony of his love. But all this was no hindrance that he should not submit himself in all his preeminence to the priesthood of Melchisedec. We hence see how great he was to whom Abraham gave place in these two things, — that he suffered himself to be blessed by him, and that he offered him tithes as to God’s vicegerent.
7. The less is, 114 etc. Let us first know what the word blessed means here. It means indeed a solemn praying by which he who is invested with some high and public honor, recommends to God men in private stations and under his ministry. Another way of blessing is when we pray for one another; which is commonly done by all the godly. But this blessing mentioned by the Apostle was a symbol of greater authority. Thus Isaac blessed his son Jacob, and Jacob himself blessed his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. (Gen. 27:27, Gen. 48:15.) This was not done mutually, for the son could not do the like to the father; but a higher authority was required for such a blessing as this. And this appears more evident still from Nu 6:23, where a command is given to the priest to bless the people, and then a promise is immediately added, that they would be blessed whom they blessed. It hence appears that the blessing of the priest depended on this, — that it was not so much man’s blessing as that of God. For as the priest in offering sacrifices represented Christ, so in blessing the people he was nothing more than a minister and legate of the supreme God. In the same sense ought to be understood what Luke records when he says, that Christ lifted up his hands and blessed the Apostles. (Lu 24:50.) The practice of lifting up the hands he no doubt borrowed from the priests, in order to show that he was the person by whom God the Father blesses us. Of this blessing mention is also made in Ps. 116:17, Ps. 118:1
Let us now apply this idea to what the apostle treats of: The blessing of the priest, while it is a divine work is also an evidence of a higher honor; then Melchisedec, in blessing Abraham, assumed to himself a higher dignity. This he did, not presumptuously, but according to his right as a priest: then he was more eminent than Abraham. Yet Abraham was he with whom God was pleased to make the covenant of salvation; though, then, he was superior to all others, yet he was surpassed by Melchisedec. 115
8. Of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. He takes the silence respecting his death, as I have said, as an evidence of his life. This would not indeed hold as to others, but as to Melchisedec it ought rightly to be so regarded, inasmuch as he was a type of Christ. For as the spiritual kingdom and priesthood of Christ are spoken of here, there is no place left for human conjectures; nor is it lawful for us to seek to know anything farther than what we read in Scripture. But we are not hence to conclude that the man who met Abraham is yet alive, as some have childishly thought, for this is to be applied to the other person whom he represented, even the Son of God. And by these words the Apostle intended to show, that the dignity of Melchisedec’s priesthood was to be perpetual, while that of the Levites was temporary. 116
For he thus reasons, — those to whom the Law assigns tithes are dying men; by which it was indicated that the priesthood would some time be abrogated, as their life came to an end: but the Scripture makes no mention of the death of Melchisedec, when it relates that tithes were paid to him; so the authority of his priesthood is limited by no time, but on the contrary there is given an indication of perpetuity. And this is added for this purpose, lest a posterior law, as it is usual, should seem to take away from the authority of a former law. For it might have been otherwise objected and said, that the right which Melchisedec formerly possessed is now void and null, because God had introduced another law by Moses, by which he transferred the right to the Levites. But the Apostle anticipates this objection by saying, that tithes were paid to the Levites only for a time, because they did not live; but that Melchisedec, because he is immortal, retains even to the end what was once given to him by God.
9. Levi also, etc. He advances farther, and says, that even Levi himself, who was then in the loins of Abraham, was not exempt from the same subordination; for Abraham, by paying tithes, made himself and his posterity inferior to the priesthood of Melchisedec. 117 But here one, on the other hand, may say, that in the same way Judas also of whose seed Christ was born, paid tithes. But this knot can be easily untied, when one considers two things which are settled beyond all dispute among Christians: first, Christ is not to be counted simply as one of the sons of Abraham, but is to be exempted by a peculiar privilege from the common order of men; and this is what he himself said, “If he is the son of David, then does David call him his Lord?” (Mt 22:45;) secondly, since Melchisedec is a type of Christ, it is by no means reasonable that the one should be set in opposition to the other; for we must remember that common saying, that what is subordinate is not in opposition: hence the type, which comes short of the reality, ought by no means to be opposed to it, nor can it be, for such is the conflict of equals.
These five particulars, mentioned by the Apostle, complete the comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, and thus is dissipated the gloss of those who seek to show that the chief likeness between them is in offering of bread and wine. We see that the Apostle carefully, and even scrupulously, examines here each of these points; he mentions the name of the man, the seat of his kingdom, the perpetuity of his life, his right to tithes, and his benediction.
There is, forsooth! in these things, less importance than in the oblation! Shall we say that the Spirit of God, through forgetfulness, omitted this, so that he dwelt on minor things, and left unnoticed the chief thing, and what was most necessary for his purpose? I marvel the more that so many of the ancient doctors of the Church were so led away by this notion, that they dwelt only on the offering of bread and wine. And thus they spoke, “Christ is a priest according to the order of Melchisedec; and Melchisedec offered bread and wine; then the sacrifice of bread and wine is suitable to the priesthood of Christ.” The Apostle will hereafter speak largely of the ancient sacrifices; but of this new sacrifice of bread and wine he says not a word. Whence then did ecclesiastical writers derive this notion? Doubtless, as one error usually leads to another, having of themselves imagined a sacrifice in Christ’s Supper without any command from him, and thus adulterated the Supper by adding a sacrifice, they afterwards endeavored to find out plausible arguments here and there in order to disguise and cover their error. This offering of bread and wine pleased them, and was instantly laid hold on without any discretion. For who can concede that these men were more intelligent than the Spirit of God? Yet if we receive what they teach, we must condemn God’s Spirit for inadvertence in having omitted a matter so important, especially as the question is avowedly handled!
I hence conclude, that the ancients invented a sacrifice, of which Moses had never thought; for Melchisedec offered bread and wine, not to God, but on the contrary to Abraham and his companions. These are the words, “Melchisedec, king of Salem, went out to meet him, and brought forth bread and wine; and the same was priest to the most high God, and blessed him.” (Ge 14:18.) The first thing mentioned was a royal act; he refreshed those wearied after the battle and their journey with sustenance; the blessing was the act of a priest. If then his offering had anything mystical in it, the completion of it is to be found in Christ, when he fed the hungry and those wearied with fatigue. But the Papists are extremely ridiculous, who though they deny that there is bread and wine in the Mass, yet prattle about the sacrifice of bread and wine.
Hebrews Chapter 7:11-14
11. If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
11. Porro si consummatio per Leviticum sacerdotium erat (populus enim sub eo legem accepit) quid adhuc opus fuit secundum ordinem Melchisedec alterum exoriri sacerdotem, et non secundum ordinem Aaron dici?
12. For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
12. Etenim dum transfertur sacerdotium, necessario etiam fit legis translatio.
13. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
13. Certe is de quo haec dicuntur, alterius fuit tribus particeps, ex qua nemo adstitit altari.
14. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
14. Clarum enim est quod ex tribu Judae natus sit Dominus noster, de qua tribu nihil loquutus est Moses quod ad sacerdotium spectat.
11. If therefore perfection, or, moreover if perfection, 118 etc. From the same testimony the Apostle concludes, that the old covenant was abrogated by the coming of Christ. He has hitherto spoken of the office and person of the priest; but as God had instituted a priesthood for the purpose of ratifying the Law, the former being abolished, the latter necessarily ceases. That this may be better understood, we must bear in mind the general truth, — That no covenant between God and man is in force and ratified, except it rests on a priesthood. Hence the Apostle says, that the Law was introduced among the ancient people under the Levitical priesthood; by which he intimates, that it not only prevailed during the time of the Law, but that it was instituted, as we have said for the sake of confirming the Law.
He now reasons thus, If the ministry of the Church was perfect under the order of Aaron, why was it necessary to return to another order? For in perfection nothing can be changed. It then follows, that the ministry of the Law was not perfect, for that new order was to be introduced of which David speaks. 119
For under it the people received the Law, etc. This parenthesis is inserted in order that we may know that the Law was annexed to the priesthood. The Apostle had in view to prove that in the Law of Moses there was no ultimate end at which we ought to stop. This he proves by the abrogation of the priesthoods and in this way: Had the authority of the ancient priesthood been such as to be sufficient fully to establish the Law, God would have never introduced in its place another and a different priesthood. Now, as some might doubt whether the abolition of the Law followed the abolition of the priesthood, he says that the Law was not only brought in under it, but that it was also by it established. 120
12. For the priesthood being changed, or, transferred, etc. As the authority of the Law and the priesthood is the same, Christ became not only a priest, but also a Lawgiver; so that the right of Aaron, as well as of Moses, was transferred to him. The sum of the whole is, that the ministry of Moses was no less temporary than that of Aaron; and hence both were annulled by the coming of Christ, for the one could not stand without the other. By the word Law, we understand what peculiarly belonged to Moses; for the Law contains the rule of life, and the gratuitous covenant of life; and in it we find everywhere many remarkable sentences by which we are instructed as to faith, and as to the fear of God. None of these were abolished by Christ, but only that part which regarded the ancient priesthood.
For Christ is here compared with Moses; whatever then they had in common, is not to be taken to the account, but only the things in which they differ. They in common offer God’s mercy to us, prescribe the rule of a holy and godly life, teach us the true worship of God, and exhort us to exercise faith and patience, and all the duties of godliness. But Moses was different from Christ in this respect, that while the love of the Gospel was not as yet made known, he kept the people under veils, set forth the knowledge of Christ by types and shadows, and, in short, accommodated himself to the capacity of ignorant people, and did not rise higher than to puerile elements. We must then remember, that the Law is that part of the ministration which Moses had as peculiarly his own, and different from that of Christ. That law, as it was subordinate to the ancient priesthood, was abolished when the priesthood was abolished. And Christ, being made a priest, was invested also with the authority of a legislator, that he might be the teacher and interpreter of the new covenant. At the same time, the word Law is applied, though not in its strict sense, to the Gospel; but this impropriety of language is so far from having anything harsh in it, that on account of the contrast it adds beauty to the sentence, as we find in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans
Moreover, the impiety of the Pope is extremely arrogant, who has inserted this article in his decretals, that he himself is now invested with the same authority as Aaron formerly had, because the Law and also the priesthood have been transferred to him. We see what the Apostle says; he maintains that ceremonies have ceased since the time when Christ came forth with command to proclaim the new covenant. It is then absurd hence to conclude, that anything has been transferred to the ministers of Christ; for Christ himself is alone contrasted here with Moses and Aaron. Under what pretext then can Antichrist arrogate to himself any such authority? I do not indeed speak now for the sake of disproving so gross an arrogance; but it is worth while to remind readers of this sacrilegious audacity, that they may know that this notorious servant of the servants of Christ wholly disregards the honor of his Master, and boldly mangles the Scriptures, that he may have some cloak for his own tyranny.
13. For he of whom these things are spoken, or, said, 121 etc. As the Apostle was speaking to them who confessed Jesus the Son of Mary to be the Christ, he proves that an end was put to the ancient priesthood, because the new Priest, who had been set in the place of the old, was of another tribe, and not of Levi; for according to the Law the honor of the priesthood was to continue, by a special privilege, in that tribe. But he says that it was evident that Christ was born of the tribe of Judah, for it was then a fact commonly known. As then they acknowledged that he was the Christ, it was also necessary that they should be persuaded that he was the son of David; for he who had been promised could derive his origin from no other.
Hebrews Chapter 7:15-22
15. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
15. Idque magis etiam liquet, siquidem ad similitudinem Melchisedec exoritur sacerdos alius;
16. Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
16. Qui non juxta legem mandati carnalis factus fuit, sed secundum potentiam vitae insolubilis.
17. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
17. Testatur enim ad hunc modum, Tu serdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedec.
18. For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
18. Abrogatio enim sit prioris mandati propter imbecillitatem et inutilitatem.
19. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
19. Nihil enim lex perfecit, sed accessit introductio ad spem potiorem per quam appropinquamus Deo:
20. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
20. Atque hoc potiorem, quod non absque jurejurando res acta sit: nam illi quidem citra jusjurandum sacerdotes facti sunt:
21. (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)
21. Hic vero cum jurejurando, per eum qui dixit illi, Tu sacerdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedec.
22. By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
22. Tanto potioris Testamenti sponsor factus est Iesus.
15. And it is yet far more evident, etc. He proves by another argument, that the Law is abolished. He reasoned before as to the person of the priest, but now as to the nature of the priesthood, and the reason for which it was appointed. The ancient priesthood, he says, had to do with external rites; but in Christ’s priesthood there is nothing but what is spiritual. It hence appears, that the former was evanescent and temporary; but that the latter was to be perpetual.
16. Carnal commandment, etc. It was called carnal, because it refers to things corporal, that is, to external rites. We know how Aaron and his sons were initiated into their office. What was fulfilled in Christ by the hidden and celestial power of the Spirit, was shadowed forth under the Law by ointment, various vestments, the sprinkling of blood, and other earthly ceremonies. Now this kind of institution was suitable to the nature of the priesthood; it hence follows, that the priesthood itself was liable to change. At the same time, as we shall hereafter see, the priesthood was not so carnal, but that it was still spiritual; but the Apostle here refers only to the difference between Christ and Aaron. However spiritual then might have been the meaning of these shadows, they were yet but shadows in themselves; and as they were made up of the elements of this world, they may justly be called earthly.
After the power of an endless life, or, of an indissoluble life. As Christ is a perpetual priest, it was necessary, that he should be different from Aaron as to the manner of his appointment; and so it was, for it was not Moses, a mortal man, who consecrated him, but the Holy Spirit, and that not with oil, nor with the blood of goats, nor with the outward pomp of vestments, but with celestial power, which the Apostle here sets in opposition to weak elements. We hence see how the eternity of his priesthood was exhibited in Christ.
17. Thou art a priest forever, etc. It is on the single word forever, that the Apostle lays stress in this passage; for he confirms what he said of an indissoluble life. He then shows that Christ differs from the whole race of Levi, because he is made a priest for ever. 122
But here it may be objected, as the Jews also do, that the word,לעולם laoulam, does not always mean eternity, but the extent of one age, or, at farthest, a long time; and it is added, that when Moses speaks of the ancient sacrifices, he often uses this expression, “This ordinance shall be forever.” (Exod. 12:17, Exod. 19:9.) To this I answer that whenever the sacrifices of the Law are mentioned, “forever” is to be confined to the time of the Law; nor ought this to be deemed strange; for by the coming of Christ a certain renovation of the world was effected. Whenever, then, Moses speaks of his own ministration, he extends the longest time no farther than to Christ. It must yet be also observed, that “forever” is applied to the ancient sacrifices, not with regard to the external ceremony, but on account of their mystical signification. On the present occasion, however, this reason ought to be sufficient, that Moses and his ministrations were for ever; that is, until the coming of the kingdom of Christ, under whom the world was renovated. Now when Christ is come, and a perpetual priesthood is given to him, we can find no end to his age, so that it cannot terminate after a certain period of time. So when applied to him, the word ought to be understood in the sense of eternity; for by the context we are always to judge of the meaning of the word, לעולםlaoulam
18. For there is verily a disannulling, or abrogation, etc. As the Apostle’s discourse depends on this hinge, that the Law together with the priesthood had come to an end, he explains the reason why it ought to have been abolished, even because it was weak and unprofitable. And he speaks thus in reference to the ceremonies, which had nothing substantial in them, nor in themselves anything available to salvation; for the promise of favor annexed to them, and what Moses everywhere testifies that God would be pacified by sacrifices and that sins would be expiated, did not properly belong to sacrifices, but were only adventitious to them. For as all types had a reference to Christ, so from him they derived all their virtue and effect; nay, of themselves they availed nothing or effected nothing; but their whole efficacy depended on Christ alone
But as the Jews foolishly set up these in opposition to Christ, the Apostle, referring to this notion, shows the difference between these things and Christ. For as soon as they are separated from Christ, there is nothing left in them, but the weakness of which he speaks; in a word, there is no benefit to be found in the ancient ceremonies, except as they refer to Christ; for in this way they so made the Jews acquainted with God’s grace, that they in a manner kept them in expectation of it. Let us then remember that the Law is useless, when separated from Christ. And he also confirms the same truth by calling it the commandment going before; for it is a wellknown and common saying, that former laws are abrogated by the latter. The Law had been promulgated long before David; but he was in possession of his kingdom when he proclaimed this prophecy respecting the appointment of a new priest; this new Law then annulled the former.
19. For the Law made nothing perfect, etc. As he had spoken rather harshly of the Law, he now mitigates or, as it were, corrects that asperity; for he concedes to it some utility, as it had pointed out the way which leads at length to salvation. It was, however, of such a kind as to be far short of perfection. The Apostle then reasons thus: The Law was only a beginning; then something more perfect was necessarily, to follow; for it is not fit that God’s children should always continue in childish elements. By the word bringing in, or introduction, he means a certain preparation made by the Law, as children are taught in those elements which smooth the way to what is higher. But as the preposition ἐπὶ denotes a consequence, when one thing follows another; it ought, as I think, to be thus rendered, “but added was an introduction into a better hope.” For he mentions two introductions, according to my view; the first by Melchisedec as a type; and the second by the Law, which was in time later. Moreover, by Law he designates the Levitical priesthood, which was superadded to the priesthood of Melchisedec.
By a better hope is to be understood the condition of the faithful under the reign of Christ; but he had in view the fathers, who could not be satisfied with the state in which they were then, but aspired to higher things. Hence that saying, “Many kings and prophets desired to see the things which ye see.” (Lu 10:24.) They were therefore led by the hand of the Law as a schoolmaster, that they might advance farther. 123
By the which we draw nigh, etc. There is to be understood here an implied contrast between us and the fathers; for in honor and privilege we excel them, as God has communicated to us a full knowledge of himself, but he appeared to them as it were afar off and obscurely. And there is an allusion here made to the tabernacle or the temple; for the people stood afar off in the court, nor was there a nearer access to the sanctuary opened to any one except to the priests; and into the interior sanctuary the highest priest only entered; but now, the tabernacle being removed, God admits us into a familiar approach to himself, which the fathers were not permitted to have. Then he who still holds to the shadows of the Law, or seeks to restore them, not only obscures the glory of Christ, but also deprives us of an immense benefit; for he puts God at a great distance from us, to approach whom there is a liberty granted to us by the Gospel. And whosoever continues in the Law, knowingly and willingly deprives himself of the privilege of approaching nigh to God.
20. And inasmuch as not without an oath, etc. Here is another argument, why the Law ought to give place to the Gospel; for God has set Christ’s priesthood above that of Aaron, since in honor to the former he was pleased to make an oath. For when he appointed the ancient priests, he introduced no oath; but it is said of Christ, the Lord swore; which was doubtless done for the sake of honoring him. We see the end for which he again quotes the Psalmist, even that we may know, that more honor through God’s oath was given to Christ than to any others. But we must bear in mind this truth, that a priest is made that he may be the surety of a covenant. The Apostle hence concludes, that the covenant which God has made by Christ with us, is far more excellent than the old covenant of which Moses was the interpreter.
Hebrews Chapter 7:23-28
23. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
23. Et illi quidem plures facti fuerunt sacerdotes, quod prohiberentur morti permanere:
24. But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
24. Hic autem quia perpetuo manet immutabile habet sacerdotium.
25. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
25. Unde et servare in aeternum potest eos qui per ipsum Deo appropinquant, semper vivens ut intercedat pro nobis.
26. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
26. Talis enim nos decebat Pontifex, sanctus, innocens, impollutus, segregatus a peccatoribus, et excelsior coelis factus;
27. Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.
27. Qui non necesse habeat quotidie, quemadmodum sacerdotes, primum pro suis peccatis hostias offerre, deinde pro populi: hoc enim semel fecit, quum seipsum obtulit.
28. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
28. Lex quidem homines constituit sacerdotes habentes informatem; sermo autem jurisjurandi, quod lege posterius est, Filium in aeternum perfectum.
23. And they truly, etc. He had already touched on this comparison; but as the subject deserved more attention, he unfolds it more fully, though the point discussed is different from what it was before; for then he concluded that the ancient priesthood was to come to an end because they who exercised it were mortal; but now he simply shows that Christ remains perpetually a priest. This he does by an argument taken from things unequal; the ancient priests were many, for death put an end to their priesthood; but there is no death to prevent Christ from discharging his office. Then he alone is a perpetual priest. Thus a different cause produces different effects.
25. Wherefore he is able to save, etc. This is the fruit of an eternal priesthood, even our salvation, if indeed we gather this fruit by faith as we ought to do. For where death is or a change, you will there seek salvation in vain; hence they who cleave to the ancient priesthood, can never attain salvation. When he says, them that come unto God, or who approach God, by this phrase he points out the faithful who alone enjoy the salvation procured by Christ; but he yet at the same time indicates what faith ought to regard in a mediator. The chief good of man is to be united to his God, with whom is the fountain of life and of all blessings; but their own unworthiness drives all away from any access to him. Then the peculiar office of a mediator is to bring us help in this respect, and to stretch out his hand to us that he may lead us to heaven. And he ever alludes to the ancient shadows of the Law; for though the high priest carried the names of the twelve tribes on his shoulders and symbols on his breast, yet he alone entered the sanctuary, while the people stood in the court. But now by relying on Christ the Mediator we enter by faith into heaven, for there is no longer any veil intervening, but God appears to us openly, and lovingly invites us to a familiar access. 124
Seeing he ever liveth, etc. What sort of pledge and how great is this of love towards us! Christ liveth for us, not for himself! That he was received into a blessed immortality to reign in heaven, this has taken place, as the Apostle declares, for our sake. Then the life, and the kingdom, and the glory of Christ are all destined for our salvation as to their object; nor has Christ any thing, which may not be applied to our benefit; for he has been given to us by the Father once for all on this condition, that all his should be ours. He at the same time teaches us by what Christ is doing, that he is performing his office as a priest; for it belongs to a priest to intercede for the people, that they may obtain favor with God. This is what Christ is ever doing, for it was for this purpose that he rose again from the dead. Then of right, for his continual intercession, he claims for himself the office of the priesthood.
26. For such an high priest, etc. He reasons from what is necessarily connected with the subject. These conditions, or qualifications, as they commonly say, are of necessity required in a priest — that he should be just, harmless, and pure from every spot. This honor belongs to Christ alone. Then what was required for the real discharge of the office was wanting in the priests of the law. It hence follows, that there was no perfection in the Levitical priesthood; nor was it indeed in itself legitimate, unless it was subservient to that of Christ; and, doubtless, the external ornaments of the high priest indicated this defect; for why were those costly and splendid vestments used with which God commanded Aaron to be adorned while performing holy rites, except that they were symbols of a holiness and excellency far exceeding all human virtues? Now, these types were introduced, because the reality did not exist. It then appears that Christ alone is the fully qualified priest.
Separate from sinners, etc. This clause includes all the rest. For there was some holiness, and harmlessness, and purity in Aaron, but only a small measure; for he and his sons were defiled with many spots; but Christ, exempt from the common lot of men, is alone free from every sin; hence in him alone is found real holiness and innocency. For he is not said to be separate from us, because he repels us from his society, but because he has this excellency above us all, that he is free from every uncleanness. 125
And we hence conclude, that all prayers, which are not supported by Christ’s intercession, are rejected.
It may, however, be asked as to angels, whether they are separate from sinners? And if so, what prevents them from discharging the offices of the priesthood, and from being our mediators with God? To this there is an easy reply: — No one is a lawful priest, except he is appointed by God’s command; and God has nowhere conferred this honor on angels. It would then be a sacrilegious usurpation, were they, without being called, to intrude into the office; besides, it is necessary, as we shall presently see at the beginning of the next chapter, that the Mediator between God and men should himself be a man. At the same time the last thing mentioned here by the Apostle is abundantly sufficient as an answer to the question; for no one can unite us to God but he who reaches to God; and this is not the privilege of angels, for they are not said to have been made higher than the heavens. It then belongs to Christ alone to conciliate God to us, as he has ascended above all the heavens. Now, these words mean the same as though Christ were said to have been placed above all orders of creatures, so that he stands eminent above all angels.
27. Who needeth not, etc. He pursues the contrast between Christ and the Levitical priests; and he points out especially two defects, so to speak, in the ancient priesthood, by which it appears that it was not perfect. And here, indeed, he only touches briefly on the subject; but he afterwards explains every particular more at large, and particularly that which refers to the daily sacrifices, as the main question was respecting these. It is briefly also that I will now touch on the several points. One of the defects of the ancient priesthood was, that the high priest offered sacrifices for his own sins; how then could he have pacified God for others, who had God justly displeased with himself? Then they were by no means equal to the work of expiating for sins. The other defect was, that they offered various sacrifices daily; it hence follows, that there was no real expiation; for sins remain when purgation is repeated. The case with Christ was wholly different; for he himself needed no sacrifice, as he was sprinkled with no spot of sin; and such was the sacrifice, that it was alone sufficient to the end of the world, for he offered himself. 126
28. For the law, etc. From the defects of men he draws his conclusion as to the weakness of the priesthood, as though he had said, “Since the law makes no real priests, the defect must by some other means be remedied; and it is remedied by the word of the oath; for Christ was made a priest, being not of the common order of men, but the Son of God, subject to no defect, but adorned and endowed with the highest perfection.” He again reminds us, that the oath was posterior to the law, in order to show that God, being not satisfied with the priesthood of the law, designed to constitute a better priesthood; for in the institutions of God what succeeds advances the former to a better state, or it abolishes what was designed to exist only for a time.
The passage reads better, and the meaning appears more evident, when we consider was as understood in the first verse, as Calvin does. The first part refers to what he did as to Abraham: and the second, to what he was as a type of Christ.
Now this Melchisedec, king of Salem, was a priest of the most high God; who met Abraham returning from the overthrow of the kings, and blessed him; to whom Abraham also divided the tenth of all: being first indeed, by interpretation, King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is, King of Peace; without father, without mother, without decent, having no beginning of days or end of life, but
By saying that he “blessed” Abraham, we are to render that he prayed God to bless him, as we find it explained in Ge 14:19.
It is not as a king, but as a priest that Christ is our righteousness. Therefore strictly speaking, as a king, he administers righteousness, or acts righteously. “The king of righteousness,” may be rendered, as Stuart does, a righteous king. See Ps 45:7 — Ed.
Some regard what is said of Melchisedec being without father, etc., as meaning that he was so in his office as a king and priest, there being no account of a predecessor or of a successor to him; but this view cannot be taken on account of these words, “without mother, without descent,” etc., Calvin gives the explanation commonly received. — Ed.
Our version “made like,” etc., is objected to by Stuart; and he renders it, “being like,” alleging that the Apostle’s object is to show, not that Melchisedec was “made like” to Christ as a priest, but the contrary, according to Ps 110:4. But the object here seems to be different: he shows why it is that there is no record of Melchisedec’s office as to its beginning or end; it was that he might be made a fit type to represent the Son of God. — Ed.
The words are in the neuter gender, “what is less blessed by the greater.” This is an idiom; the neuter is put for the masculine, as πᾶν is used for all men in Joh 6:37, and πᾶν μωρὰ for foolish men in 1Co 1:27. The meaning is, “the inferior is blessed by his superior.” — Ed
There are three kinds of blessing mentioned in Scripture, — prayer for a blessing, Mt 5:44; prophetic blessing, as in the case of the patriarchs, Heb. 11:20, 21; and sacerdotal blessing, as recorded in Nu 6:23-27. The latter is what is meant here. It was a blessing announced in the name of the Lord, or a prayer offered in his name, and by his authority. — Ed.
Critics often make a difficulty where is none. The obvious meaning of this verse is given by Calvin, — continual succession, owing to death, betokened the unenduring character of the Levitical priesthood; but the perpetuity of that Melchisedec is proved by this, that he lives. To live often means to be perpetual; and to die intimates what is evanescent. The Levites were dying men, which showed the character of their office, Melchisedec is represented as not dying, which betokens that his office as a priest is perpetual. — Ed.
Our version is “For he was yet,” etc., ἔπι, here is not yet, but even, as in Lu 1:15, or then, as rendered by Stuart; “For he was even (or then) in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him.” — Ed
The particles Εἰ μὲν οὖν, are rendered by Elsner, “but if,” — by Doddridge, “now if,” — by Stuart, “moreover if,” and by Macknight, “moreover, if indeed;” and all these consider that there is here a commencement from what has preceded. — Ed
“Perfection,” or completion, rather than consummation is no doubt the best word τελείωσις. To render it “perfect expiation,” as Schleusner does, is not to render the word, but to explain it. The imperfection of the Levitical priesthood was doubtless its capacity really to make an atonement for sin, as its work was ceremonial and typical: but it was enough for the present purpose merely to say that it was not perfect, as it failed to answer the great end of establishing a priesthood. And the Apostle grounds its deficiency, or imperfect character, on the fact that a priest of another order had been promised. This was an argument which the Jews could not resist, as it was founded on the Scriptures, which they themselves acknowledged as divine. — Ed
See Appendix Z.
Calvin renders “for”, γὰρ, “doubtless — certe,” and Stuart, “now;” but it may better be rendered here, “for,” as a reason is given for a change in “the law” respecting the priesthood. The γὰρ in the former verse may be rendered “indeed,” or “wherefore” as by Macknight. In the 11th verse, the Apostle proves the imperfection or defectiveness of the Levitical priesthood, by the promise of another priest after the order of Melchisedec for Christ was not of the tribe specified by the Law. — Ed
This paragraph extends from the 11th verse to the end of the 17th. The “law” parenthetically referred to in the 11th, seems not to be the Mosaic Law generally, as too commonly supposed, but the law respecting the Levitical priesthood, as it appears evident from the 12th and the following verses, for what is spoken of is Christ as being a priest not in succession from Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedec. See Appendix A 2. — Ed.
Calvin is peculiar in his view of this verse. He considered the Law to be “an introduction to a better hope.” Many agree with our version, such as Beza, Doddridge, Macknight, Stuart, etc. But there are those who render “introduction” in connection with “disannulling.” See Appendix B 2. — Ed.
Calvin’s version of the former part of the verse is, “Hence he is also able to save for ever those who through him draw nigh to God.” Instead of “to the uttermost” of our version, we have here “forever,” according to the Vulg. Macknight renders the phrase the same and Stuart “always.” But the original, εἰς τὸ παντελὲς, do not refer to time, but to what is fully or perfectly done. It is so taken by Erasmus, Beza, Capellus and Schleusner. There is another difference, whether to connect the words with “able” or with “save.” Most join them with “save,” “he is able also fully (or, for ever) able to save.” When we consider what the subject is — the perfection of Christ as a priest, and not the character of his salvation. We must see that the latter is the right view, and that the passage ought to have been thus rendered, — “And hence he is fully (or perfectly) able to save those who through him come to God.” And the words which follow may be deemed as affording a reason for this, “always living in order to intercede for them,” or, “to interpose in their behalf.”
However, there is not much difference in the meaning, whether the word “fully” or perfectly be connected with “able” or with “save;” the same truth is essentially conveyed. — Ed.
Christ as a priest was “holy” with regard to God; “harmless,” or innocent, or guileless, according to Chrysostom, with respect to men; “undefiled” as to himself, morally so, as the priests under the law were so ceremonially; “separate,” or separated “from sinners” removed from their society to another place, and “exalted higher than the heavens.” There is an allusion to the Levitical high priest, especially in the three last words, and a contrast in the two last; the Levitical high priest continued among sinners, Christ is removed from them; the former entered into the holy of holies, the latter has entered into a place higher that the heavens, even the heavens of heavens. How immeasurable is the superiority of our high priest! — Ed.
See Appendix C 2.